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Published March 26, 2012, 11:30 PM

College visits bring March Madness

March Madness is here! However, if you’re one of the millions of parents of college-bound high school juniors and seniors, the real madness is squeezing in college visits during this busy time.

By: Nancy Berk, Ph.D., McClatchy-Tribune News Service, INFORUM

March Madness is here! However, if you’re one of the millions of parents of college-bound high school juniors and seniors, the real madness is squeezing in college visits during this busy time. Juniors are beginning the search and accepted seniors are being called back for school visits or choosing to revisit before making a final decision.

The college visit process can be stressful and exhausting for everyone. Building a great strategic plan can help prevent family meltdowns on the college road trip. Check out these five tips to get your college-bound journey on course.

Tip 1: Get a Map and a Big Book

Looking at a map and drawing an acceptable college radius can be a conversation starter. Some families have clear geographic guidelines secondary to finances, medical conditions or other personal issues. This might be the time to rule-out possibilities that aren’t realistic.

Enormous college guide books allow you to quickly compare similar statistics and facts across schools. While statistics don’t give you the full picture, these phonebook-sized resources are a great starting point.

Tip 2: Take a Virtual Tour

No shoes? No collared shirt? No problem. Virtual tours are free and easy and without dress codes. Take the university website tours and follow up with some browsing on the student-driven college search sites http://CollegeProwler.com, http://Zinch.com and http://Unigo.com. These sites often include information some parents might not want to think about, but probably should (e.g., dating, drinking).

Tip 3: Look Local

Regardless of whether local colleges are on the wish list, touring can help a student narrow down his or her preferences. This is an economical way to determine if a large university feels like a fit or a miss, or if a small school seems comfortable or confining.

Tip 4: Watch Out

The student should be front and center on the college tour, with parents taking a back seat. Generally speaking, the applicant should be asking more questions than the parent. Take time after the official college tour to stroll around campus. Chat with students if there is an opportunity. Grab coffee in the student union and observe.

Tip 5: Expect Tension

It’s not unusual for parents and teens to have diametrically opposed opinions of the same school. You can also travel hundreds of miles to see a university, only to have a teen refuse to get out of the car because he/she doesn’t like “the look.” Few families sail through the college admission process without conflict. Remind yourself that there’s a good chance your family is normal, and that college admission is right around the corner.

Nancy Berk, Ph.D. (http://drnancyberk.com) is the author of “College Bound and Gagged: How To Help Your Kid Get Into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind” (http://www.amazon.com/College-Bound-Gagged-Without-Relationship/dp/0615548830. She speaks and writes extensively about surviving the college-bound process. A clinical psychologist, comic, professor and parent, she is a blogger for The Huffington Post, USA TODAY College and MORE Magazine.

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